If you’ve never killed someone, you really can’t imagine what it’s like. You don’t want to know. It leaves you with something hard and leaden in the pit of your stomach, something that never dissolves.
Most of us, I’m convinced, just aren’t wired to take a human life. I’m not talking about some stone-cold sniper with a thousand-yard stare, or one of those psychos who come back from the war and tell you that killing guys was like squishing ants. I’m talking about normal people.
I remember reading once how, during World War II – the Good War, right? – maybe 85% of the soldiers never even fired at the enemy. These were heroes, not cowards, yet they couldn’t bring themselves to aim at a fellow human being and pull the trigger.
I understand that now.
But what if you don’t have a choice?
I was standing at the end of a splintery wooden dock in the pale moonlight, the turbulent ocean at my back, blue-black and flecked with gray foam. On either side of me was rock-strewn beach.
And less than ten feet away, a man was pointing a gun at me, a matte-black SIG Sauer nine millimeter.
“Boy, you’re full of surprises, aren’t you?” he said.
I just looked at him.
He shook his head slowly. “Nowhere to run, you know.”
He was right, of course. There really was nowhere to run. There was nowhere to swim, either. And I had no doubt that, the moment I made a move to jump, he’d pull the trigger.
I took a long, slow breath. “Who says I want to run?”
I could smell the seaweed, the tang of salt in the air, the faint rot of dead fish.
“Just put your hands up, Jake,” he said, “and come back inside. I don’t want to hurt you. I really don’t.”
I was surprised he knew my name, and I was even more surprised by the gentleness in his voice, almost an intimacy.
But I simply looked at him, didn’t answer, didn’t move.
“Come on, now, let’s go,” he said. “Hands up, Jake, and you won’t get hurt, I promise.” The crash of the waves on the shore was so loud I had to strain to make out his words.
I nodded, but I knew he was lying. My eyes strayed to the left, and then I saw the crumpled body on the sand. I felt a jolt, felt my chest constrict, but I tried to conceal it. I knew he’d killed the guy, and that if it were up to him, I’d be next.
It wasn’t up to him, though.
I don’t want to do this, I thought. Don’t make me do this.
He saw my eyes move. There was no point in trying to stall for time anymore: he knew what I’d just seen. And he knew I didn’t believe him.
Don’t make me kill you.
“Jake,” he said, in his lulling, reasonable voice. “You see, you really don’t have a choice.”
“No,” I agreed, and I felt that hard lump forming in the pit of my stomach. “I really don’t.”